Alba González

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Alba and her sisters


There she is, the tallest of the three, with her back straight and eyebrows raised. I have not known her for long and recently (with great sadness, I admit) we’ve been growing apart. My grandmother, a beautiful, strong, independent woman despite her many hardships, still has a smile on her face. Her name is Alba, and even though her youth was cut short by a young marriage, she still keeps a young, playful spirit that sometimes makes me feel as if she were the teenager and I the grandmother.

In her youth, her family lived in New York. She says she was often misunderstood by her parents. But, they “were great,” she says. Now she says that. Once, when she was barely sixteen, her father slapped her. “I hate you,” she had said to him.  She confessed she was sorry for saying those words. She always regretted telling her father that lie.

She was the oldest of the girls and the second-born of the marriage. When she was barely fourteen-years-old, her father began telling her she would become a whore. This was why he beat her; with his belt, a tamarind stick, or his fists so she would get rid of the idea of sleeping around with men and making a fool of the family.

He tried to cut her face once, after she arrived home from school. A neighbor told him that he had seen a car outside the house late at night. As she entered the door he grabbed her by the arm and tossed her on the floor. He took a knife from the kitchen counter with his right hand and had her by his left. “Maldita puta,” he screamed in her face.

Her older brother, Jaime, took hold of his right arm. “If you want to cut someone, cut me. I am a man. She is a lady,” he said, still holding his father’s arm in the air. Alba lay on the floor, trembling, tears of fear running down her cheeks.

As time passed, the beatings worsened and that’s when she started to rebel against her parents. “I still cannot believe my mother turned her other cheek with the injustice he committed every day,” my grandmother said to me, tears welling up in her eyes. “When I was able to get away from him and shut myself in my room, my mother would come in knocking and say, ‘Stop getting your father mad over silly things.’ How could she say something like that when it was I getting the beatings? I was the one who had to wear make-up at the age of twelve to cover the black eyes he gave me.” My grandmother lowered her face as she wept.

When she was barely sixteen she had had enough. She left her house after a beating for skipping class. “Rosendo picked me up and we drove all night. When I realized what we had done, I knew I couldn’t return home. He would have killed me. I’m sure of it,” she said as she stared at the white wall in her bedroom. In her wrinkled face I could still see the worried teenager of that night.

“Rosendo offered for me to stay over night at his place. When I woke, he told me to look at my hands. I must have slept soundly that night because I couldn’t remember a ring being placed on my finger. It was a thin golden ring with a small diamond. It looked amazingly beautiful on my finger. He asked me to marry him and I accepted. The next day I went to my uncle and he wed us. I wore a knee-high white dress, very simple. After we wed, he decided to move back to Puerto Rico, so we did. That’s when I became pregnant with Rosendo Jr. His father and I only lasted about two years. His constant drinking and going out late at night became too much for my nerves.”

Three years after she divorced Rosendo, she met Etanislao “Tito” Martínez, a handsome, young black man who fell in love with her and so she with him.  But fate had other things in mind for her.  Tito had been engaged with a high school girlfriend long before he met my grandmother. Even though he was betrothed to another woman, his heart belonged to only one woman.

When desire became too much to ignore, their night culminated in the shore of Playa Isla Verde making love until dawn.

Abuela Alba with her newborn daughter Barbara

Nine months later, as he drove by my grandmother’s house to marry his girlfriend, Alba was in the hospital giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. Her name: Bárbara, my mother. Incredibly, Alba’s father had lightened up, and accepted her in his home along with her two children.  She became even more dedicated to taking care of her new family.

Now in her sixties, her brothers and sisters rarely visit her. Back when her mother was alive, the family used to gather together on the holidays. Alba’s brothers and in-laws cooked giant pots of fried pork in the front yard while the women cooked big pots of rice, boiled plantains and pasteles in the kitchen. They drank, listened to loud music, lit fireworks and hugged each other to welcome the New Year. Now that their mother had died, everyone went their separate ways, except her.

Her New Year’s Eve is now spent watching the big ball in Times Square fall inside the television. Her loneliness is written across her face. Her insides scream for her family to be united although she is aware it is an impossible task. Her days are spent playing with Chivi, a small, black sato dog with white hairs on his belly, whose sole task is to run around the living room as she claps and calls him. He makes her life a bit more bearable.

For now she spends her days wearing a sleeveless red gown with a picture of a blue bunny on the front and a six inch hole in the back revealing her white panties as she cleans her house with the television on so she doesn’t miss her favorite court television show, Caso Cerrado.


  1. This story is very typical back than, parents thought that if they gave you a beating that was going to take care of things . The nosey neighbors always
    telling on the kids, like their kids were any better. But that is how it was back than. My mom used to tell me the same thing please do not get your dad so upset, but I got to say if he hit me for something she would jump in and tell him to stop and he would. I loved my Dad very much and he was a great dad,
    I was different and had a mind of my own, that’s why we used clash. My mom use to say I was just like him.

  2. This story is very moving. The hardships that the woman felt were very real and is something that nobody should go through. Having said this it has led you to where you are today and in that respect is a tremendous anecdote . It is a great account of abuse in times where laws where not as strong as they are today and things were very different.

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